Bonfire of the Vanities

Not much to do with walking or cycling I’m afraid, but this is my blog and I can write about other things occasionally if I want to. Writesofway attended the Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations last night, maintaining unbroken attendance stretching back a good few years. I love it, the Lewes Bonfire celebrations are the biggest in the country and attract around 30,000 people each year. It’s a great, generally good-natured affair – apart from burning the Pope and other Enemies of Bonfire of course. Huge torchlit processions with marching bands – usually samba bands (we Brits seem to have taken to this particular cultural import with the same enthusiasm as Thai green curry) – followed by huge bonfires and ooooh-aaaah firework displays. You can read more about Lewes Bonfire here amongst other places.

‘Why ‘bonfire of  the vanities’?’ I hear no-one ask. Well, every year assorted miscreants who have offended the sensibilities of the Bonfire Societies are paraded through town in effigy before being put to the torch. The Pope is immolated every year because of the Catholic-orchestrated Gunpowder Plot in 1605, but also to mark the executions of the seventeen protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake outside the town’s Star Inn at the time of the Marian persecutions between 1555 and 1557. Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Tony Blair, Fat Cat bankers and George Bush have featured among the other baddies condemned to the fiery furnaces in recent years. Fair enough. However there have been a number of dubious choices too. I remember Eric Cantona being cast into the inferno some years ago because people were annoyed about French fishing quotas. Exactly.

Last night, a giant Barak Obama was wheeled through town in an equally giant deck chair, Why? Because he was tough on BP for destroying the Gulf of Mexico. Another candidate for the flames was writer David James Smith, who penned an article about encountering racism in Lewes when he, his black wife and mixed-race children moved there in 2005. Not popular.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there before I end up earning my own inferno-bound effigy for next year’s do. Here’s some pictures instead:

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14 responses

  1. There are plenty of thespians and other media types living in Lewes these days, Owdbum, but if they did torch any of them on this particular pyre it had all happened long before we arrived on the scene. Now you mention it though, there was a ‘hog roast’ stall parked just next to the bonfire…

  2. Where is Lewes btw? We have some racist towns just to the west of Nottingham, the heartland of the BNP where they have their annual festival knees up. Not that I am suggesting that the good citizens on Lewes are racist (how could I if I don’t know where it is!).

    Is it an oil town?

    • Hello James, Lewes is the county town of East Sussex and a very lovely place it is too. It has a good mix of indigenous folk and incomers and has a good vibe to the place. Like a lot of towns in Sussex, it is almost exclusively white. It’s definitely not a hotbed of xenophobia, racism and chauvinism at all. I think D J Smith’s experience involved a minority of individuals, but I think the problem lies with the response to his article.

      Not an oil town, no.

      I think your down jackety thing needs a winter visit to Caledonia!

  3. My down jackety thing would love a trip to Caledonia and I would happily go along with it!

    I am free Fri 19th to the Sunday if you fancy a backpack / bothy / camping trip somewhere a bit more south than Caledonia. ie Lakes, Cheviots, Kielder, Southern Uplands, Dartmoor.

    Its dark out there though……….

    • Is that the 19th of November? I’m down in sunny Sussex until the very end of November, James. We will organise something this winter though, I can feel it in my bones. Southern Uplands, Cheviots, whatever.

  4. Ah, I remember my sole experience of the Lewes bonfire vividly. For a start it was the morning after Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated (which means it was 1995)and it was also the same day that you introduced me to the beautiful music of Eleni Karaindrou. Couldn’t have forgotten the Lewes bonfires even if the heavens had opened to leave them smouldering and dreary heaps. Very strange, and somewhat alarming, response to David James Smith’s article. Though nothing should surprise me anymore. Having said that, the bonfires were spectacular. Thanks for the brilliant images!

    • Hello Hoff, glad you like the pics and that they’ve re-kindled (ahem) your memories of November 5th 1995. An impressive feat of memory Julian. What colour jacket was I wearing? Infact, I think that was the year that they burned Eric Cantona. Weren’t we with Martin Ashby and we were hurling loads of abuse at the bonfire dudes for being flagarantly xenophobic? Probably a few pints of Harvey’s had stimulated the old rowdy gland. No pot pourri!

    • Thanks for your kind words Alan. I’ve just had a shufti at your site also and I’ll look forward to reading about your extremely interesting and commendably round-the-houses 2007 route. All the best!

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